Saturday, January 18, 2014
From the very first, my idea of getting into “genealogy” was that it would become a place where I could capture and store all the old stories my mother told me as I was growing up. She died unexpectedly in 1982, and at that time the subject of genealogy wasn’t even on my radar screen. But two years later I was introduced to it by a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was her enthusiasm and encouragement that started me thinking I could make some order out of the “old stories” my mother told me about the farm in Kansas, the tornados they lived through, the fire that burned down their house, the photography school she attended in Illinois, her grandfather who left his grandchildren a nice chunk of money when he died that came to them in the middle of the Great Depression, her authoress grandmother….and ultimately the trip that brought her to California.
I started into genealogy with what is called a family group sheet – a form on which to capture the “name, rank and serial number” (so to speak) of each family that I was related to. I learned how to hunt down elusive facts; sometimes it was as easy as picking up the phone and making a phone call to an aunt. Other times I had to send off to county offices to get a copy of a birth or death certificate. This was all before the advent of both the personal computer and the internet, so overall it was not a particularly effortless chore. Those empty blanks on the family group sheet were always calling to me for answers.
It is now thirty years later, and they are still calling. Today I’m hunting for the details of the short life of Blanche Stevens. She truly is an Immortal Nobody, and while I suspect I’ll never have a picture of her to post on Find-a-Grave or on the blog, hopefully I can get a sense of this child who actually was my grandma’s cousin.
Here’s what I know about Blanche.
She was born in 1889 in Wichita, Kansas. Her dad was George Stevens and her mom was Sarah Smith Stevens. She had a brother, George Dewey Stevens, born in 1898. Her mom died in 1900 of Bright’s Disease. Needing a mother for his children, her dad married Adelia Gale on Christmas Day of 1901. Daddy George took a job in Guthrie, Oklahoma and the family moved there.
In December of 1909, Blanche married E. E. Thompson at the age of 20. In November of 1910, Blanche died. She is buried in the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie. Her husband ultimately remarried and moved to Florida. Her brother graduated from college and became a geologist and moved to Texas. Father George and stepmother Adelia followed George Jr. and ultimately died and are buried in Houston.
That’s what I know about Blanche. That’s not enough.
Genealogy reflects our culture, and it is not surprising that there is a paucity of information about most of the females that we are researching, especially the ones who die soon after reaching adulthood. In the case of many women of that day, often there is a grave of a baby beside the mother, or named on the same tombstone. Many, many women died in childbirth. Is that what happened to Blanche? 1910 is fairly early to expect a death certificate to be required. Logan County, where Guthrie is, says I must send in a $15 research fee to see if a death certificate for Blanche exists. I am paying for research time; if one exists I’ll receive a copy of it. If one doesn’t, the fee still applies. I have no problem with that. If it does, I will be able to add a little knowledge to the life of Blanche.
What else might be available that would shed light on her life? It is a little early for high school yearbooks. Does the public library have copies of them that far back? Or perhaps the high school does. If so, can someone see if a picture of her exists in that yearbook? I hope, I hope….but I’m not holding my breath.
Do old copies (or microfilmed copies) of newspapers exist? Were there any stories about her marriage? Was there an obituary printed at her death? To find out, my choice is to take a trip back to Guthrie and research myself (not likely), hire a researcher to take a peek for me, or count on the good graces of a kind library staff to check for me and tell me how I can get copies of the articles.
To give Blanche more of a “self” it will be worth a few dollars spent in the hunt. Lurking in the back of my mind, of course, is that maybe none of these things exist….and then what?
In genealogy, strange things can happen. One time early on I received an envelope in the mail from someone whose name I didn’t recognize. I opened it up and out fell a carte de visite photograph of my great-grandmother, Nancy Dobbins. It seems that a lady in El Paso was the great-granddaughter of Nancy’s sister Olivia. Being the youngest child of the family, Olivia had retained all the old family photographs and albums, and perhaps being the most prescient of them, had thought to label each one that she knew. That box of photographs had been passed down to the youngest daughter of each generation, finally resting with the lady in El Paso. The El Paso lady was herself a genealogist and tracked me down to deliver that photo by mail.
So I never can discount that something totally unexpected will happen and Blanche will become a real person again. But for the time being, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the traditional ways of turning up facts will once again produce good stuff and that Blanche will become better known to all of us Stevenses.